Surprise! The Entire Enterprise Of Mummery Is Built On Racism And Ignorance

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Not a metaphor. Actually happening. Still.

FOR YEARS, we have been saying this, to the point where we even bored ourselves: Mummery is 100% backward bullshit, an annual celebration of the white man and his famous burden that has no place in the modern, better iteration of this city. Sired in an age where the powers that be reasoned that minstrelsy practiced en masse was a good enough bread and circus to remind the underclass that at least there was a hierarchy to these things, the Philadelphia New Year’s Day Parade metastasized into a Tradition. And though the mantle of that tradition suggests that, over the years, the parade has become a more genteel, family-oriented thing, scratch the surface this year or any other and you can quickly find the poisonous, poisonous heart of the Mummers.

And just when everyone was getting bored of The Argument, it just so happened that yesterday, the Mummers got back to their roots, so to speak. The Ferko String Band placed fifth in the String Band competition with a routine that swapped out blackface for redface (complete with a rendition of “Mammy” and visual echos of Sambo), and the Venetian Club shat out some thing that played fast and loose with anything to do with “Indians.” And as I write this, late on New Year’s Day’s night, I’m sure Two Street is ablaze with n-bombs, f-bombs, and enough piss to fill up the Linc to make a hoagie and pretzel soup that would keep us warm all winter.

Oh don’t be such a sourpuss, you say, it’s such a unique part of our identity as a city! Or my personal favorite, which is when people talk about how authentic it all is. To which I say: Well, yeah, the worst things within us usually are. Which is why it takes Herculean efforts to stamp them out. But as a city, we’ve done nothing but encourage this nasty little survivor of an age we kid ourselves into thinking is bygone.

Over recent years, like everything else around here, the New Year’s Day Parade — and with it, the entire enterprise of mummery — has felt a financial crunch. It’s been on the ropes financially and in terms of cultural relevance. As a new city continues to sprout up around us on the ashes of the old one, it gets harder each year to look at the Mummers and say, yes, that represents me. I’ve lived here my entire life and I still can’t do it. It should be dead by now. It should have faded away (or at least to Northeast Philly or South Jersey where, let’s be honest, it belongs) decades ago. And yet, no politician or city official would dare even the appearance of pulling the plug on this thing. After all, let us not forget: The dumb fucking mooks in red face are the same Philly Democratic Machine Union Goons working the polls each and every Election Day. Hell, some of them even live here.

That the social and economic force that is the Transplantadelphians haven’t been more vocal about What We Talk About When We Talk About The Mummers is a disappointment, too. Instead, we’ve got an awful lot of people obsessed with “authenticity” who believe that you can treat this shit like an art project and change the tenor of the parade; alongside that is an even more distressing phenomenon — the sociocultural tourism (or, let’s call it what it is, “slumming”) that now attends every Two Street celebration. Yuck. Many otherwise presumably “enlightened” folks among us have turned themselves into living parsers of the argument that goes, “But heyyyyyy, they’re not all like this… see?”

Of course they’re not — they being the many Mummers out there, I’m sure, who also cringed a lot yesterday — but history is not written by the people who stand on the sidelines and say, “Oh, dear, I am not very comfortable with that.” History, unfortunately, is mostly written by knuckle-dragging racist, homophobic, cowardly pieces of shit who do whatever the fuck they want until, finally, someone says no.

Bearing that in mind, the Mummers gave the people of Philadelphia a wonderful gift yesterday: Something to finally, unequivocally, say no to. When something is as wrapped up in cheesesteak wrapper and sold to us, year in and year out, as Us, as our own civic identity, it’s easy to say, “Well, okay, I suppose, I suppose there’s no harm in letting it ride and fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.” But what went down yesterday was no joke. It was ugly. It was a heart of darkness many of us thought we’d mostly passed through. And it does not represent who we are. Not anymore, and not to whatever extent it ever did. Again: It does not represent who we are.

So let us go then, you and I, howling into this new year. Too often, we Philadelphians can coddle ourselves with the cold comfort of knowing that bigotry is largely owned by the hick provinces of Pennsyltucky and places to the south of it that are even more unmentionable. But let’s not kid ourselves. It lives here among us, only our redneck is your otherwise kind-of-tolerable hoagiemouth neighbor. And lest you just think his prejudice is isolated, don’t be so sure: You should hear what he says about you when you’re not in the room.

– Joey Sweeney

[Photo courtesy a bemused reader]

  • Marlon F

    Minstrel shows and music played a huge part in shaping American popular
    culture. Though most people immediately think of white performers in
    blackface, black minstrelsy performed by African-American entertainers
    was popular and influential. In the first few decades of the twentieth
    century black performers from the minstrel stage like Ernest Hogan and
    Bert Williams were huge stars. These men actually did put burnt cork on
    their face to darken their skin and perform in blackface. Classic blues
    stars like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey shared these stages and developed
    their reputation with touring minstrel shows. We usually think of
    country blues (singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charley Patton) as a
    departure from this kind of entertainment. But the influence of
    minstrelsy on country blues performers is clearly presen

  • Marlon F

    Minstrel shows and music played a huge part in shaping American popular
    culture. Though most people immediately think of white performers in
    blackface, black minstrelsy performed by African-American entertainers
    was popular and influential. In the first few decades of the twentieth
    century black performers from the minstrel stage like Ernest Hogan and
    Bert Williams were huge stars. These men actually did put burnt cork on
    their face to darken their skin and perform in blackface. Classic blues
    stars like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey shared these stages and developed
    their reputation with touring minstrel shows. We usually think of
    country blues (singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charley Patton) as a
    departure from this kind of entertainment. But the influence of
    minstrelsy on country blues performers is clearly presen

  • Marlon F

    Minstrel shows and music played a huge part in shaping American popular
    culture. Though most people immediately think of white performers in
    blackface, black minstrelsy performed by African-American entertainers
    was popular and influential. In the first few decades of the twentieth
    century black performers from the minstrel stage like Ernest Hogan and
    Bert Williams were huge stars. These men actually did put burnt cork on
    their face to darken their skin and perform in blackface. Classic blues
    stars like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey shared these stages and developed
    their reputation with touring minstrel shows. We usually think of
    country blues (singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charley Patton) as a
    departure from this kind of entertainment. But the influence of
    minstrelsy on country blues performers is clearly presen

  • berserker

    I am really sick of white people telling me that the only racism I’m allowed to be mad about is the very worst thing in the whole world. You know what? Hitler was an asshole, the Mummers in blackface were assholes, and you’re an asshole if you think it’s not my right to be pissed off at both of them.

    If even a single person is discouraged from getting drunk, putting on blackface, and marching through my home like it’s his God-given right to treat my part of history like a joke, my effort hasn’t been wasted.

  • berserker

    I am really sick of white people telling me that the only racism I’m allowed to be mad about is the very worst thing in the whole world. You know what? Hitler was an asshole, the Mummers in blackface were assholes, and you’re an asshole if you think it’s not my right to be pissed off at both of them.

    If even a single person is discouraged from getting drunk, putting on blackface, and marching through my home like it’s his God-given right to treat my part of history like a joke, my effort hasn’t been wasted.

  • berserker

    I am really sick of white people telling me that the only racism I’m allowed to be mad about is the very worst thing in the whole world. You know what? Hitler was an asshole, the Mummers in blackface were assholes, and you’re an asshole if you think it’s not my right to be pissed off at both of them.

    If even a single person is discouraged from getting drunk, putting on blackface, and marching through my home like it’s his God-given right to treat my part of history like a joke, my effort hasn’t been wasted.

  • NowMuseumNowYouDon’t

    >2013+1
    >Writer Still Thinks Mummer’s Parade is Racist.
    >I sure hope you guys don’t do this. (ISHYGDDT)

  • nobody

    Actually, you do have to explain why it’s more offensive. Clearly you know nothing of the history of white ethnic groups.

  • nobody

    Really you’re just full of crap. Drop the overcompensating by swearing and learn some history.

  • nobody

    Actually, people all over the world were, including Irish people.

    That’s why actually knowing history comes in handy here.

  • nobody

    The rest of the country? People all over the country who claim to be so tolerant are some of the most closetly racist people around. Get over yourselves.

  • nobody

    The difference is, unlike you, she’s actually a part of that group. My God you hipsters are entitled.

  • nobody

    Because it’s not your place, and because you’re a hypocrite.

  • nobody

    So does class.

  • nobody

    Gotta love when a white dude is trying to lecture a nonwhite person on racism.

  • nobody

    Like you don’t?

  • nobody

    You’re full of crap, and you want to blame everybody but yourselves and your families for the problems low-income people have but you play a major part in it.

    Stop trying to school actual locals on gentrification and classism.

  • nobody

    Or maybe he’s simply calling you out as the hypocrites that you are.

  • nobody

    It’s really just sad how far you have to go to justify your hatred of working class Philly people. This article is nothing but pure bullshit, but why should I be surprised at that?

    The next time you talk, act, and dress like people from that background, maybe think about the role you’re playing in mocking their culture as well, you fucking suburban hypocrite.